Customer Service is Never Out of Date – or Out of Place

Epiphany at the Gas Pump

Regular readers of this blog know of my borderline fanaticism in the area of Guest Services related to ChurchWorld. Some leaders cringe at those words, but the fact is people who come to church are consumers, and leaders in ChurchWorld can learn a lot from good customer service practices wherever they find them – even in a 1946 training manual for Gulf Dealers.

In a recent conversation with a friend, I was asked the question, “Where does your passion for Guest Experiences come from?”

The answer to that question became a little clearer in the last week.

My father.

My father passed away in 2012, and recent changes in my mother’s health required that she move out of the house in which she and my father had started their family in 1954. Over the last week, as my brother and I were going through the process of moving her from her home of 61 years, I took great delight in looking through some of the items my dad had saved and stored over his life. When I found this manual pictured below, I knew it would become a special part of my Guest Services resources.

After my father was discharged from the Army Air Corps following WWII, he worked at several jobs before he and his brotherGulf Service Plan 1 built a Gulf Service Station outside of Nashville TN. My father operated it for 44 years, closing it when he retired in 1993. Growing up in that gas station (literally – our house was about 100 feet away) I learned a lot about how to deal with people by watching my father interact with his “customers.” What I didn’t realize until recently was that his natural, easygoing style was augmented by customer service training materials supplied by the Gulf Oil Company.

It seems that good service is never out of date.

Notice the red dotted line around the vehicle – that’s the suggested travel path for the service man – or two – to take when a customer pulled up to the gas pumps to have gasoline put into his tank (I realize many readers have no clue nor experience of this, but it did happen!). Starting by engaging the driver, here are a few of the suggestions for engaging the customer:

  • Always be prompt – the service plan starts when you see a customer driving into your station. Whenever possible, be alert and at his side when his car stops, ready to greet him.
  • Greet the customer – your greeting is your first important step in showing courtesy to the customer, and it should be friendly, cheerful, and always in your own words.
  • Acknowledge the other customer – when a second car drives in, you should immediately recognize the other customer and saying you’ll be right with him. This kind of greeting pays off because you not only please the customer who is waiting but you also please the customer you are waiting on, who notices that you are courteous to others.
  • Improve the rear view – while you are at the rear of the vehicle putting gas in, wipe the rear window and tail lights. Should a light be out, call it to the attention to your customer at the proper time.
  • Look at those tires – while you are back there, take a look at both rear tires for cuts, blisters under inflation, etc. and make a mental note to tell your customer before he leaves your station.
  • Work to the front end – walk around the right side, cleaning the right windshield, checking the wiper blades, and inspecting the front tires.
  • Under the hood – check the oil and water levels; it’s your responsibility to protect your customer’s car. If any is needed, ask him if you may bring the levels up to the correct level.
  • Keep alert under the hood – while you have the hood open, keep alert for other service needs. Train yourself to quickly observe all needs, informing the customer as appropriate.
  • Collect for the sale – it is important to give the customer the right change, so count the change back into his hand. If he is using a credit card (yes, they had those in 1946!), learn to fill out the invoice quickly and accurately.
  • Courtesy is pleasant – before your customer leaves the station thank him and ask him to come in again. By this time you should have learned his name, so make it personal.
  • Help him safely on his way – if your station is on a busy street where it’s difficult to get into traffic, give your customer a hand. Guide him into the moving traffic safely. He may not expect this added courtesy, but he’ll be glad to get it and remember it. Every courteous act will be appreciated by your customers, and make them regular patrons of your station.

And a closing reminder:

With the Gulf Service Plan, every time you do some little service for the customer, it makes him realize that you know your business, and that you’re looking after his welfare. These services keep your customer coming back again and again. Good will – the tendency of the motorist to return to a place where he has been well-treated – is being created every time you give him not only what he wants, but what he needs. He remembers you are the man who looks after his best interests by taking good care of one of his most prized possessions – his car.

To all of us who live in 24/7, always-connected world, the actions above probably seem like a throwback or an anachronism of the good old days.

I happen to think they are a timeless reminder that service still matters – especially in ChurchWorld, where there is no “product” per se, but the outcome of the interactions with our Guests may be eternal.

Thanks Dad, for the lessons you taught me even when I didn’t realize it, and for the lessons you still teach me after you’re gone.



Speed Reading Week, Day 4

The Amazement Revolution, Shep Hyken

Customer service isn’t a department – it’s a philosophy that includes every person and aspect of the best and brightest organizations.

Shep Hyken delivers seven powerful strategies that any organization can implement to create greater customer and employee loyalty:

  • Membership: What if you treated the people you serve like members instead of customers?
  • Serious FUN: What if your team felt a sense of fulfillment and enjoyment that made them loyal to you and your customers?
  • Partnership: What if you customers thought of you as a partner rather than just another organization?
  • Hiring: What if you could implement innovative hiring processes to support your customer-service mission?
  • The After-Experience: What if you could create a memorable, positive experience after someone did business with you?
  • Community: What if you could create a community of evangelists – loyal customers who brag about you to their friends and associates?
  • Walking the Walk: What if every person in your company didn’t just deliver, but also lived and breathed your vision for amazing customer service?

Throughout the book, Hyken shares more than one hundred insightful examples from fifty role-model organizations that prove these strategies can and should be implemented immediately – by any organization, large or small.

I first heard Shep Hyken speak on a video talking about an extraordinary cab experience he had on a trip to Dallas. I was hooked – and I think you will be, too.

The Amazement Revolution is not just stories and examples – at the end of the book, Hyken has condensed the seven strategies down into “brainstorm worksheets” that your organization can use to put ideas into action.

How will you amaze your customers today?

Speed Reading Week, Day 3

The Zappos Experience: 5 Principles to Inspire, Engage, and WOW, by Joseph Michelli

Zappos – the name has come to stand for a new standard of customer experience, and amazing online shopping experience, and the most impressive transformational business success story of our time. Simply put, Zappos is revolutionizing business and changing lives.

 CEO Tony Hsieh documented the Zappos story in his excellent book Delivering Happiness. I encourage you to read it to get Hsieh’s personal insights on the evolution of Zappos.

Michelli’s book The Zappos Experience takes you through – and beyond – the playful, off-beat company culture Zappos has become famous for. Michelli reveals what occurs behind the scenes at Zappos, showing how employees at all levels operate on a day-to-day basis while providing the “big picture” leadership methods.

Michelli breaks the approach down into five key elements:

Serve a Perfect Fit – create bedrock company values

Make it Effortlessly Swift – deliver a customer experience with ease

Step into the Personal – connect with customers authentically

S T R E T C H – grow people and products

Play to Win – play hard, work harder

When you enhance the customer experience, increase employee engagement, and create an energetic culture, you can’t help but succeed. Zappos has woven these five key components into a seamless strategy that’s the envy of business leaders.

The Zappos Experience is much too detailed to adequately treat in this short post.  Applications for ChurchWorld abound. Here’s one example for you to think about:

Zappos’ customer service is legendary for how it handles the huge volume of merchandise shipments. Members of the Customer Loyalty Team take a huge amount of pride in their customer interactions.

Could you apply the same principles in the Guest Services Team at your church?

  • What are the small and epic acts that make up your service story?
  • What do people remember about the way contact with your organization made them feel?
  • What are the stories circulating about your organization’s guest services practices?
  • How are you capturing and retelling large and small WOWS delivered by your team?

It works for Zappos; it can work at your church, too.

A: “We’re Here to Help You Grow”

Q: Why Apple has been able to create one of the most innovative environments – in any industry – ever.

The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs

Principle #6: Create Insanely Great Experiences

People don’t want to just buy personal computers anymore. They want to know what they can do with them, and we’re going to show people exactly that. – Steve Jobs.

Apple entered the retail business out of necessity. Up till 2000, it was dependent on giant electronics retailers that simple pushed products – Apple or otherwise. Apple realized it would continue to lose market share if it didn’t do something.

Steve Jobs’ decision was to enter retail: “We have to think different about this. We have to innovate.”

Along with Jobs, Ron Johnson, Apple’s Senior VP of Retail Operations, realized that innovation could not take place without a clear, compelling vision. That vision?  Enriching lives.

That simple vision drove the Apple team to create a store unlike anything else in retailing. They innovated around the retail experience by changing people’s expectations of what a retail experience could be.

  • Design uncluttered stores
  • Locate the stores where people live their lives
  • Allow customers to test-drive products
  • Offer a concierge experience
  • Make it easy to buy
  • Offer one-to-one training

Where most retailers are moving product, Apple is establishing a lifelong relationship.

Innovation is seeing what exists in another industry and applying what you learn to improve the customer experience.

What are the lessons here for ChurchWorld?